Justice offers tips for transitioning to the cloud

January 24, 2011

When the Recovery Act passed, the Justice Department knew it would need to upgrade its IT infrastructure to keep up with the demand that was about to be placed on its systems.

“We knew we could not support the transactions that would hit us, so we had to look at a solution,” said Angel Santa, Deputy Chief Information Officer in the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. Santa spoke on Federal News Radio’s Federal Tech Talk show.

That’s when the agency decided to go to the cloud. Justice decided to stay in house after determining it had the resources to develop a private cloud to fit its needs.

“[It’s] very important, if you decide to do it in house, that you have the people, you have the skill sets. How do you prioritize them? How do you keep them engaged and communicate and how do you help them grow? If they don’t have the skills, how do you have the training in place? How do you communicate and have the vendors at the table with you?”

Santa tells Federal Tech Talk host John Gilroy the agency’s decision to stay in house was about security and resources.

“You always have to look at your business and the security of your business. And what makes sense for your business and what makes sense long term. We’re still wrestling with making sure we have a secure environment out in a public cloud and having access to that secure information. How do you support it? Do the vendors have the right security clearances to support that? As that continues to evolve, I’m sure there will be more offerings and systems moving out to the public.”

Santa doesn’t rule out working with a hybrid cloud in the future.

As for the benefits of the cloud, Santa sees many of them as well.

 “We have other systems in the OJP business that will capitalize on this, let alone the energy savings, let alone the ability to maintain a more stable and more homogenous environment.”

Listen to Santa’s entire interview on Federal Tech Talk.

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Recovery.gov discusses cloud success

December 20, 2010

In 2009, Recovery.gov was created as a way to follow the money being handed out through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Michael Wood, director of Recovery.gov, told Federal News Radio using the cloud has been a major contributing factor to the website’s success, starting with the redesign of Recovery.gov.

Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud was chosen to host the site during the redesign process.

“The big challenge for the federal government was would it be run in the U.S.? Amazon gave us some assurances it would be. So the servers that they’re using are in the U.S. and we moved to the cloud.”

The transition happened in record time. It only took about 12 weeks to move into the cloud. Wood admits however that his agency didn’t have as many security concerns as other agencies might have moving into the cloud.

Steal my data. I’m all about transparency. There is an advantage there. There are a lot of federal people that there are security concerns. There are privacy concerns. We had less of that so we had an advantage of being able to move very rapidly. But that’s been very, very successful. It gives us tremendous flexibility. You can spin up servers very quickly…If we need to change or if there’s a problem we can actually spin up a new server in about five minutes so that’s worked out very, very well.

The success of Recovery.gov could mean more federal websites just like it in the future. In fact, one has already been created and is being run by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board – the same group that runs Recovery.gov.

It’s called FederalTransparency.gov and was created as a way to track federal spending. Currently the site is tracking the grants given out under the Education Jobs Fund.

Listen to Michael Wood on Federal Tech Talk.


In case you missed it: This week in cloud news

December 11, 2009

What happened this past week when it comes to the cloud?

Today, we answer that question.

On Tuesday

On this week’s Federal Tech Talk on Federal News Radio, host John Gilroy talks with Lynn McNulty, Director of Goverment Affairs at (ISC)2. The two talk about a variety of topics, but during the third portion of the show, they devote about 10 minutes specifically to cloud. We encourage you to listen to the whole program, but wanted to point out exactly where the “cloud talk” was.

On Wednesday

We talk a lot about what you should move into the cloud, but what shouldn’t you move? On In Depth, host Francis Rose talked with Mark Forman, a partner with KPMG and former Administrator for E-Government and Information Technology at the Office of Management and Budget. Listen to the whole interview and read the article here.

On Thursday

OMB is going to require agencies to develop an alternative analysis discussing how they could use cloud computing for all major technology projects for the fiscal 2012 budget. Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller brings us a wealth of information in this article.


Continuing to try and define what ‘cloud computing’ means

November 10, 2009

Today, we take a look at cloud computing in the federal sphere with industry insider John Gilroy of SolutionsDevelopers.


Fed Cloud Blog: In doing research, we have found that different people define ‘cloud computing’ in different ways. What do you think ‘cloud computing’ means? (We know NIST has an official definition — do you think this works for every agency/enterprise?)

John Gilroy: My definition of cloud computing is an enterprise using web service access outside the firewall. However, given the fact that the English language is so flexible, I will reluctantly concede that using a web service inside the firewall may come under the umbrella definition of “cloud computing.” Some will argue that merely using a virtual server qualifies as using the “cloud.” Sorry, can’t push the definition to that extent.

FCB: Do you have personal experience using shared services? Briefly explain.

JG: Personal – just a Gmail account. My company offers managed services using a data center.

FCB: If you use shared services, why did you start/what was your motivation?

JG: Personal – just a Gmail account. My company offers managed services using a data center.

FCB: If you work in the cloud, tell us about that. If you don’t work in the cloud, do you plan to?

JG: Personal – just a Gmail account. My company offers managed services using a data center.

FCB: What are some of the benefits of working in the cloud? Pitfalls?

JG: The main benefits are replacement, selection, and recovery of web services. Replacement means that, as an organization’s requirements change, they can change the services they use. Perhaps a new vendor pops on the market with a superior product; maybe usage at one level cannot justify a specific vendor. When activity grows, this new vendor’s price can be justified. Selection indicates that when the system is designed, it can take a “full picture” look at the system and choose a service that is best for that moment. Perhaps it is not the least expensive, but it may provide better interoperability than other solutions. Recovery is always important when systems fail. Discrete web services are easier to “plug and play” than classic client/server systems.

The obvious weakness is jumping on the cloud bandwagon because your think it is stylish. Cloud computing will be nothing but headaches unless your basic architecture is squared away. Next, if you can’t make a long term financial justification for a cloud initiative, then stick the proven methods.

FCB: You have a lot of experience talking with both industry and government. What is the biggest difference when it comes to implementing cloud computing in an office/enterprise between public and private sector? Is it true that the federal government (according to stereotypes) is behind the curve?

JG: It always amazes me how federal IT professionals denigrate their systems capability. Take a look outside the government to compare. For example, last year Forrester did a study and found only 5% of enterprises used internal clouds. Furthermore, upon detailed analysis, researchers thought this figure was exaggerated. (Source: NetWorkWorld; October 19, 2009)

Moving to the cloud is not easy for public or private organizations. Everyone must make the business case for moving to a web service in the cloud. Only after careful analysis should plans be made whether or not to alter the current IT system.

FCB: I have heard about a number of security concerns regarding federal agencies and cloud computing, but are there other obstacles, as well? In culture? Laws?

JG: In my world people who refuse to even consider web services are called “server huggers.” Much like their cousins, the “tree huggers,” they may hold positions based on emotion and not logic. All we are asking for is a considered review of current applications and an evaluation of whether or not the cloud will be of value. A web service is not necessarily a candidate for replacing every application. However, the flexibility inherent in web services provides enough value to at least consider deployment.

Today, financial constraints are forcing us to examine every aspect of the information technology matrix. We no longer have the luxury to retain one way of doing a task merely by saying, “Well, this is the way we have always done it.”

FCB: In your experience, have you seen those who adopt cloud computing take baby steps — or jump right in.

JG: From my perspective a baby step into cloud computing is to select a small manageable domain and select half dozen applications as candidates for the cloud. Then, a systematic inspection of your enterprise architecture to determine the impact of using web services. The next baby step would be to test the application and evaluate. Rinse and repeat until you are happy with a small transition.

The technical considerations are easy compared to making a business case for moving to a service. The road to futility is paved with short term savings that wind up costing fortune in the long run.

John Gilroy is also the host of Federal Tech Talk on Federal News Radio 1500 AM.


Also on Federal News Radio — the Federal Executive Forum examines cloud computing this month. Check it out!